'Experts' don't have upper hand

17:29, Jan 23 2013

If you think you are good at multi-tasking, chances are you're not.

Those who consider themselves capable multi-taskers are actually less able to block out distractions and focus on a single task, according to research published yesterday.

People who are better at focusing on one thing at a time are more likely to be better at multi-tasking when forced to do it.

Victoria University psychologist Marc Wilson researched the merits of multi-tasking and found some studies showed it to be 40 per cent less efficient than doing things one at a time.

"It's ironic that the people who say they try to avoid multi-tasking would actually be better at it, and this might be because they're the ones who are better able to focus on the tasks at hand."

The adage that women are better at juggling tasks than men has also been blown out of the water. In a study where men and women were tested on cooking dinner while talking on the phone, men were 10 per cent less likely to burn the dinner. The small but controversial victory for men has been put down to their being better at thinking about things relative to each other, which is useful when arranging different tasks.


The research published yesterday, from the University of Utah, also labelled people who chose to multi-task as impulsive, sensation-seeking and overconfident. Ultimately, they were less capable at multi-tasking.

A common measure was to test people's ability to drive while talking on a mobile phone.

Psychology professor David Sanbonmatsu, author of the Utah study, said data showed people chose to multi-task because they had difficulty focusing on one task at a time.

"They get drawn into secondary tasks . . . They get bored and want that stimulation of talking while they are driving," he said.

Multi-tasking was considered to be a useful skill, featuring regularly in resumes, but Drake manager of HR solutions Rebecca Clarke said it was not a priority for most employers.

"Employers do ask for multi-tasking skills, and when they elaborate on this, more often than not they're looking for someone who is actually able to turn their hand to a variety of tasks, rather than undertake these tasks simultaneously."

The Dominion Post